A roaming 150-pound cougar shot and killed by police on Chicago’s north side last month, while rare, may become a signal of more frequent cougar appearances as populations rebound and the animals seek to expand their range.
Cougars have been migrating eastward over a period of years from the Black Hills and Western states, increasing the likelihood there will be more sightings in urban and rural areas of Indiana, said Lorraine Corriveau of the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine.
“People aren’t their prey,” Corriveau said. “For the most part, cougars don’t want to attack people, and they usually have somewhat of an aversion to people. The problem is that as they make a comeback from near extinction, they are moving into areas they have not been in for many years.”
The reason for the migration is the cougar’s nature. Young males stake out their own territories as they are pushed outside the boundaries of other cougar territories.
One cougar can migrate several hundred miles over time, she said. A cougar killed by a train near Red Rock, Okla., in 2004 was found wearing a tracking collar that had been attached 670 miles away in Wyoming.
Cougars are a threat to livestock and pets, she said, and cattle and deer often fall victim in cougar attacks. Cougars, also referred to as bobcats and pumas, tend to find their prey near forested areas or areas with underbrush.
Corriveau, a pet wellness clinician, said there are hundreds of reports of cougar sightings and attacks on animals annually. While there have only been 13 confirmed cougar attacks in California since 1890, nine of those attacks have occurred since 1992. Attacks also have been reported in recent years in Michigan.
Wildlife authorities track cougar migration so they can alert people in the areas, Corriveau said. Anyone sighting a cougar should report it to state wildlife agencies because gauging the size of cougars is a help to authorities, she said. Photographs of cougars with recognizable objects in the background can be a particular help in determining size. Cougars can weigh more than 100 pounds.
Cougars once were the most plentiful mammal in both North and South America, but settling both continents rapidly diminished the population. In states such as Oregon, cougars were virtually extinct by the 1960s. Since then, Oregon has adopted a cougar management plan to sustain a minimum population of 3,000. South Dakota has adopted a cougar hunting season to reduce its population because an estimated 80 percent to 90 percent of young males are leaving the Black Hills to seek out new territory.